28 February 2020
Album Rating 4 / 5
Diversity in Songs 4.5 / 5
Favourite Songs Was She Happy, Darkness in Mind, Halfway House, Got Me a Plan
Kassa Overall has released his second album I THINK I'M GOOD as the Brooklyn-based emcee, singer, producer, and drummer once again dissolves the barriers between hip hop and jazz and has begun a new conversation.
Despite only releasing his debut record in January 2019, Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz, he has dived right into another album that has an eclectic range of beats and tones to evoke Overall's personal mental health issues. Rather than sticking solely to bedroom production, he makes sure to bring his studio of simply a laptop, an audio interface, and microphone with him everywhere. Almost like this flitting lifestyle, the tracks move from fast paced drum comping to sombre melodies, proving to be an enthralling journey that Overall has curated for us as a backpack producer.
The LP depicts Overall wrestling with the abhorrent American prison system, the ebbs and flows of romantic relationships, and perils of trust. The backdrop to these varied themes is Overall confronting his experience with mental illness, which included a manic episode and subsequent hospitalisation when he was a student. Themes of incarceration and claustrophobia weave through the record, but never drown out the feeling of a fragile but vital hope. He states:
“Mental instability or hyper-sensitivity was something that felt too taboo to talk about. I want to show the world that mentally sensitive people are the innovators of our society, and hopefully set a new standard that includes a healthy way of life and embracing our unique perspective on reality.”
He seeks out numerous collaborations on this record to deal with these motifs, and they start with trumpeter Theo Croker and vibraphonist Joel Ross on 'Please Don't Kill Me' that follows on as a relaxed electric-funk vibe coming off the lo-fi, inspired murmuring of 'Visible Walls' that precedes. Brandee Younger on the harp and bansuri flautist Jay Gandhi offer trickling phrases that starts the album off peacefully as we are introduced to Overall's auto-tuned vocals that continues throughout.
This matches the more hip-hop driven rhythms compared to the slightly lighter, jazz feel of Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz. 'Find Me' featuring vocalist J.Hoard is an intriguing song that goes from bright piano to a gloomy sound matching the bass that is flung in with darker tones as the drums comp loosely and the ride cymbal adds a jarring effect as it shimmers and clatters behind the groove, before returning once again to a brighter feeling. This song encapsulates the quickly moving beats from mood to mood that occurs throughout.
'Show Me a Prison' has a menacing piano lead that rings out constantly, emulating the song's investigation of social injustice in the US prison system, as a fitting feature of civil rights activist Dr Angela Davis accompanies the song at the end. The catchy 'Halfway House' moves from softly pushed brushes to a very chilled trap drum beat as the auto-tune adds a feeling of tender melancholy. Pianist Sullivan Fortner adds gentle spirituality in 'Darkness in Mind' as the repetition of the melody makes the song very contemplative to the listener before the programmed drums are laid down to allow the 'I wait for you' lyrics to sink in.
By this point in the album, the tracks tend to remain in one mood and 'Got Me a Plan' is slightly more upbeat as it feels like a futuristic video game with the Japanese-esque psychedelic synth that bops along to the variety of drum patterns to flavour Overall's lyricism. Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer contributes with chilling keys that wobble with an electro-Scandi tone of nostalgia in 'Was She Happy (For Geri Allen)'. This feeling could be evoked by Overall's relationship with Geri Allen who was his musical mentor (and sadly passed away three years ago from cancer) as the trip-hop ride cymbal pattern comes out to provide an atmosphere for the vocals to drift over and provide a compelling finish to the record.
Despite graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory in 2006, it seems like the amount of time it has taken for Kassa Overall to produce his solo material has been a blessing for him in being able to find a unique niche of music that straddles hip-hop and jazz without sounding dated or repetitive. In a Bandcamp Daily interview, he states how gigs and jams became places for him to conduct "market research" into experimenting with samplers, vocal filters and different song concepts. He iterated “it takes a certain amount of courage to bet it all on yourself,” but as both this and his debut confirm, his music would never disappoint.
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